Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

The invisible touches // Some of the site redevelopment we've been working on of late

Published by Mr. C

The Formula 1 off-season is without doubt our most creative time of the year. Freed from constraints of fitting our lives around Bernie Ecclestone's hotchpotch of dates he calls a calendar, we're able to work on longer term projects without distraction.

In years past, this period is where we collect feedback, implement new ideas and redesign things in preparation for a new season. We aren't the only ones of course, driver sites, team sites, news sites and blogs often receive a new coat of HTML paint during the downtime. Just today in fact McLaren relaunched their website for the second year in a row, while incumbent tyre supplier Pirelli rolled out a new site to support their efforts this year.

This is all part of the natural evolution of the Formula 1 website, aside from a brief summer break there really isn't much time between races to think outside the box.

Just to be awkward, Sidepodcast's 2010-2011 winter break was slightly different from previous years. We didn't solicit any feedback, we didn't push much out in the way of innovative ideas and if you compare a snapshot of this site from the last race in 2010 to today, there's barely a single change worth noting. We have not been sitting idle though and it isn't as if we no longer need feedback, so what have we been doing?

Cool runnings

The goals we set before Christmas included getting a handle on where we were and where we're going. Managing Sidepodcast is much like riding a bobsleigh without knowing quite where the bottom of the hill is. So we did a bit of reshuffling so we can be more comfortable during the next high-speed downhill section.

Here's a quick four-month refresher for those at the back, who've been paying less attention than I have.

Hanging on the wall, for all to see

F1 Big Picture now has its very own place on the web. This was important because although Big Picture and F1 Minute sat well together, design requirements for the two always meant too many compromises were being made when it came to presentation.

Having a new site also meant we could create a custom back-end management system, highly focused for the task in hand, making it cheap to run and fast to use.

Stranger by the minute

F1Minute, now freed from the shackles of F1 Big Picture, received a redesign and a few new features.

Behind the scenes, the old admin system was ripped apart and replaced by another highly optimised collection of pages. So fast is it, that Christine claims she can now post a new show in just 47 seconds. Last season it was taking almost five minutes. To anyone else, this time saving is of course irrelevant, but to Christine it's a big deal.

Facts of life

The Factbyte Factbox also has acquired space on the internet. After a year of heavy use and abuse, we've made numerous invisible performance improvements and by extracting the system from Sidepodcast, also enabled its use outside of Formula 1 events.

You can expect all manner of random live blogging coming your way in 2011. Charity events, endurance races and live radio shows are only just the beginning.

All three of these sites now run within their own tiny server footprint, meaning we've reduced our hosting costs considerably. The pages have been written with modern HTML5 browser technology in mind, so if you're using the latest version of your favourite browser, page load times should be very nippy indeed.

This same HTML5 technology can also reduce our hosting costs by a small amount, which is why we're always pushing people to upgrade. Conveniently, just in time for the upcoming season, Microsoft released version 9 of Internet Explorer and today Mozilla have released version 4 of Firefox. We strongly encourage anyone and everyone to update to the latest version of their chosen browser whenever possible.

Tales of the unexpected

A final mention should go to the Sidepodcast Wiki, as two years of hosted Wiki hassle led us to taking over the running of the thing ourselves. We weren't expecting the added cost of self hosting, but doing so has made it both faster and advertising free to boot.

If you have been keeping a close eye on what we've been up to, none of the above will be surprising, neither is it particularly innovative. You're looking at exactly the same content, only displayed in a slightly different manner. In terms of costs, if you exclude the ever climbing expense of podcast hosting, we have halved our hosting costs over winter. That is no mean feat considering we've picked up one extra site and split two existing ones into four.

Disappointingly, Sidepodcast however, has been left a little by the wayside in the interim. We are in the midst of moving servers (again for cost and performance reasons), but Heartbeat is the only truly innovative technology update we've released. We worked harder and longer this off-season than ever before, yet have almost nothing tangible to show for it.

Enjoy this coming F1 season, we should have more free time and energy to enjoy it too.